THE BLOG

If You Give Music Away Free (and Legally), They Will Come

03/06/2013 10:09 pm ET | Updated May 06, 2013
Alamy

Video may have killed the radio star, but free online music streaming services are putting the infamous Peer-to-Peer (P2P) music swiping services to rest.

Not that I ever participated in such a nefarious activity, but remember when downloading music from Napster, LimeWire and Kazaa was pretty much the coolest thing you could do on the web?

The Recording Industry Association of America is correctly credited for ending the heyday of for peer-to-peer (P2P) music file sharing. The trade organization shut down powerhouses like Napster in 2001, Kazaa was sued and went legit in 2006 and LimeWire was shuttered in 2010.
However, these RIAA victories did not kill the music-filching-business, in fact about 21 million people were still busily snatching music offline in 2012, according to the research firm The NPD Group.

What is finally going to put the nail in the P2P business is not only free, but legal.

NPD reported that many former P2P users are instead using free music streaming services like Pandora.

Evidently, free is always better, but free and legal is the best.

At least that is what music lovers appear to be thinking.

Data from NPD's Annual Music Study 2012 showed a 17 percent decline in P2P usage. The actual number of Internet users utilizing P2P sites fell 11 percent to 21 million, down from its peak of 33 million in 2005.

There is also a practical reason for the decrease in P2P usage. There are many fewer sites to access as the music industry has expended a huge amount of money and time to shut them down. But just as important, P2P users said to NPD, was that they were sick of the viruses, spyware and spam associated with the remaining sites.

In addition to fewer people illegally obtaining music, the amount of music downloaded also decreased 26 percent. NPD questioned why those who had been using P2P sites had stopped and 40 percent claimed they had stopped doing so. The primary reason given for this change of heart was their preferred use of free streaming sites.

Interestingly, freely obtaining music off the web was not the only activity to decline last year. Fewer people were borrowing, burning and ripping their friends CDs and the number of music files swapped directly between hard drives dropped 25 percent. Finally, the number of music downloads from digital lockers decreased 28 percent.

So, does this mean people are feeling guilty about duping their buddy's music collection? Or are they just too lazy to drive over and pick up the discs?

My guess is this is a case of been there done that. Cheap CD burners have been around for a decade. Anyone interested in copying a friend's music library did so years ago.

That tied to the fact that the sales of CDs has plummeted simply means that the opportunity is not there.

While getting your money for nothing and chicks for free might have been good for Dire Straits back in the 1980s, musical artists were unfairly being ripped off by Napster and its fellow travelers. So the trend of depending upon free online streaming services is the best possible solution for all involved.